Charles Monnett, a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, or BOEMRE, has been placed on administrative leave pending results of an investigation into a 2006 report that Dr. Monnett co-wrote on deaths among polar bears swimming in the Beaufort Sea. Monnett, who is based in Ancorage, Alaska, was responsible for co-ordinating most of the agency’s research on Arctic wildlife and ecology.
Dr. Monnett and a co-author, Jeffrey Gleason, prepared the seven-page observational report for the science journal Polar Biology after spotting four dead polar bears during an aerial survey of bowhead whales in the Beaufort Sea in 2004. As word of the sightings spread, images of drowned polar bears became a staple for activists who warned that global warming and the retreat of sea ice were threatening the bears’ survival.
In the peer-reviewed article, they said they were reporting, to the best of their knowledge, the first observations of polar bears floating dead offshore and presumed drowned while apparently swimming long distances in open water. Polar bears are considered strong swimmers, they wrote, but long-distance swims may exact a greater metabolic toll than standing or walking on ice in better weather.
They said their observations suggested the bears drowned in rough seas and high winds. They also added that the findings “suggest that drowning-related deaths of polar bears may increase in the future if the observed trend of regression of pack ice and/or longer open water periods continues.”
There is no indication to date that action will be taken against Dr. Gleason, who now works for the bureau in the Gulf of Mexico.
A spokeperson for BOEMRE acknowledged the ongoing internal investigation into Dr. Monnett”s research but declined to offer any specific reasons for the investigation. Whatever the outcome or the nature of the allegations, the investigation will likely fuel the ongoing fight between climate change activists and those who are sceptical of scientists’ findings about global warming.